In March 2023, the Department of Defense announced it would stop purchasing AFFF firefighting foam containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by the end of 2023 and phase out usage of the dangerous firefighting foam by 2024. AFFF firefighting foam has been the industry standard since the devastating fire aboard the USS Forrestal in 1967, but decades of warnings about the harmful effects of PFAS exposure have led to this decision.
PFAS, or “forever chemicals,” help resist oil, water, heat, stains, and grease. However, they can remain in someone’s body and cause severe health conditions like bladder, kidney, and ovarian cancer.
AFFF Firefighting Foam Containing PFAS Can Expose Civilians and Firefighters to Health Risks
AFFF firefighting foam is the industry standard foam used by civilian and military units to fight oil-based fires. The firefighting foam uses per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as the chemicals help resist oil and heat. It’s one of the most effective firefighting remedies because of its strong carbon-fluorine bond. AFFF works by smothering the oil or fuel-based flames and depriving them of oxygen in situations where the addition of water can complicate and worsen the blaze.
According to Ryan Sullivan, associate director of the Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University, the carbon-fluorine bond is “the strongest bond you can make to carbon, and so that makes the molecules very persistent.” PFAS can spread quickly when sprayed over a fire, creating a film that cools the fire’s heat source.
However, the “forever chemicals” can also seep into the environment and remain there for decades. People exposed to PFAS through firefighting foam can experience significant health problems, as a large quantity of PFAS can accumulate in someone’s body can affect major organs. Many firefighters and civilians who have since suffered illnesses due to PFAS exposure via AFFF are now filing AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits to hold AFFF manufacturers accountable for negligence.
What are the Adverse Medical Conditions Caused by Exposure to PFAS?
Civilians living by military installations, airports, shipping areas, and gas and oil industries are at a high risk of exposure to AFFF and PFAS. Firefighters that use AFFF firefighting foam can also become exposed to the forever chemicals through occupational use. PFAS exposure through AFFF firefighting foam can affect a person’s health by causing a severe, life-altering medical condition.
When AFFF firefighting foam is used over an area, it can seep into the soil and water sources. Those living there can become exposed to dangerous quantities of PFAS. AFFF and PFAS exposure can cause cancer and other severe health conditions.
The following are the adverse health conditions caused by exposure to PFAS through AFFF firefighting foam:
- Liver cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Testicular cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
- Adult-onset asthma
- Thyroid disease
- Weakened immune system
- High cholesterol
- Ulcerative colitis
- Reduced fertility
PFAS Phase-Out in Firefighting Foam Must Be Completed by 2024
The Pentagon announced in March 2023 that the Department of Defense will begin phasing out AFFF firefighting foam containing PFAS, with a complete phase-out needing to be completed by October 2024. This came after the Pentagon discovered more than 700 instances of PFAS leeching into the soil or groundwater, with clean-up costs possibly reaching billions of dollars.
The military is not the only institution that uses AFFF firefighting foam, as the Forest Service, local fire departments, and commercial airports all use it to extinguish fires. The belief is that the alternative found by the Department of Defense will influence these groups to adopt a new foam for fighting fires. The Department of Defense must stop purchasing AFFF firefighting foam by the end of this year and find a replacement by October 2024.
Why Did the Military Begin Using PFAS in Firefighting Foam?
The use of AFFF firefighting foam containing PFAS began in the 1960s. On July 29th, 1967, there was a severe fire on the USS Forrestal while operating at Yankee Station off Vietnam. The catastrophic fire took the lives of 134 sailors and left 161 injured, making it the second-worst loss of life aboard a Navy ship since World War II.
A misfire from a Zuni rocket led to the rupturing of a fuel tank and setting off bomb explosions, causing the severe fire. The firefighting team aboard the ship died in the initial impact of the fire, leaving an untrained team using water that only enhanced the threat of the fire. Following this tragedy, the Department of Defense searched for a more effective way to suppress fires, eventually leading to AFFF firefighting foam containing PFAS.
Warnings About the Harmful Effects of PFAS in Firefighting Foam Occurred for Decades
Issues regarding PFAS causing cancer and other significant health issues have cropped up since the 1990s. Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment and energy resilience, testified before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about warnings of the health risks associated with AFFF firefighting foam.
He testified that chemical companies issued health notices in the 90s regarding AFFF firefighting foam. However, the Department of Defense did not take measurable action until a health advisory notice from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2016.
Michael Roark, deputy inspector general for evaluations at the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, revealed a Department of Defense risk alert in 2011 regarding AFFF firefighting foam. The Department of Defense failed to do anything about PFAS in AFFF firefighting foam, exposing civilians to the preventable risk of exposure to PFAS.
How Will the Military Replace AFFF Firefighting Foam?
The Pentagon has released new requirements for what the PFAS-free firefighting foam should be that include standards regarding chemical and physical requirements, toxicity levels, and stability. The Department of Defense has until October to find an alternative foam to help fight fires and until October 2024 to fully phase out AFFF firefighting foam.
The Naval Sea Systems Command is reviewing applications from manufacturers of firefighting foam that do not contain PFAS. Approved options will have to undergo rigorous testing to determine if the alternative firefighting solution meets the Pentagon’s guidelines.
The difficulty with finding a replacement for AFFF firefighting foam is that many alternatives can handle some firefighting situations, but very few handle all of them. The Department of Defense has until October before finalizing its plan to move off of PFAS-containing firefighting foam.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help With Your AFFF Firefighting Foam Lawsuit
Victims that have suffered severe illnesses after they were exposed to PFAS in AFFF firefighting foam can file firefighting foam cancer lawsuits to hold manufacturers accountable for exposing them to harmful chemicals. AFFF firefighting foam manufacturers failed to warn about the harmful effects of PFAS in their products and can be considered liable for damages such as medical bills, lost earning potential, and even pain and suffering.
The product liability lawyers at Dolman Law Group can use their mass tort and product liability experience to help you file an AFFF lawsuit and join the ongoing multidistrict litigation to pursue compensation for your AFFF damages. Contact us for a free consultation at (866) 995-2950 or by completing a contact form online.